Bushwalking could help lead Illawarra's economy out of lockdown and businesses have been encouraged to explore opportunities as the final link in the Great Southern Walk nears completion.
Just as he saw the economic potential of cruise ships to the region last decade, Wollongong councillor Leigh Colacino sees bushwalking as a positive step forward.
Cr Colacino said the present lockdown was unlike anything the region had seen. But he sees hope on the horizon for Wollongong to take positive steps out of it with bushwalking.
"With our stunning natural assets and outdoor lifestyle Wollongong is perfectly placed to benefit from the imminent arrival of spring and warmer weather," he said.
"With the announcement by the NSW government and National Parks of an $80 million dollar funding injection into bushwalking trails like the Great Southern Walk, businesses, accommodation providers and those who specialise in food and hospitality need to recognise the potential for growth that this can offer."
Cr Colacino said now was the time to grab the initiative.
He said with the Great Southern Walk stretching from southern Sydney to the Royal National Park and along the Illawarra Escarpment there was potential for growth. And Wollongong's natural beauty was a real advantage.
"A major part of the trail planning was the inclusion of hubs to provide a range of services and commercial operations to ensure people can access food, beverages and toilet facilities as they negotiate the network," he said.
"The current situation with COVID will eventually become a manageable issue and the world will once again be open to tourism. Operators have to make their businesses ready to cater for the tourists who will inevitably come in droves, as they have every time lockdowns have been lifted."
Cr Colacino said the time was right to start planning because the masterplan for the Great Southern Walk included 44km of multi-use trails which would be completed by the end of 2024.
"The iconic views that this walk will provide are on par with similar walks enjoyed by visitors to comparable sites situated around the world. The only obstacle that needs to be addressed is the connection from the much loved and arguably highest point of visitation in the city, Bald Hill into the valley of Stanwell Park and then up to the peak of Mt Mitchell where the escarpment can once again be explored and enjoyed. Once this hurdle has been overcome the Great Southern Walk can take its rightful place amongst the world's top walks."
The connection will be completed in three years.